Egypt among states attempting to weaken UN Anti-Corruption Convention enforcement mechanism

Egypt among states attempting to weaken UN Anti-Corruption Convention enforcement mechanism

CAIRO: International NGOs are warning that the United Nation’s global corruption convention will “fail” if states attending the third Conference of States Parties to the treaty in Doha do not agree on an effective review mechanism.

Adopted in 2003 and signed by 141 states, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) covers five areas: prevention, criminalization, international cooperation, asset recovery and technical assistance.

States meeting in the Qatari capital this week are thrashing out an agreement on the review mechanism designed to ensure that states abide by their treaty obligations.

International anti-corruption NGO Transparency International (TI) warned in a statement issued Wednesday that “a small group of countries are currently pushing proposals for a review mechanism which would water down implementation to the point of seriously undermining the treaty.”

“The proposals risk leaving the convention toothless,” the statement continues.

According to Robert Palmer, a campaigner with NGO Global Witness, Egypt is amongst the states blocking a weightier review mechanism.

Palmer explained that two camps have emerged in the conference, one which supports NGO demands that the review mechanism include full publication of country reports, meaningful civil society participation, and in-country review visits, and another camp which is blocking these demands.

The latter group of states issued a position paper earlier this week in the name of “The Like-minded Group of States”, Palmer said, signed by Algeria, Angola, China, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

The position paper is not public and NGOs have not been permitted to observe conference sessions. Some details have, however, emerged about the kind of review mechanism Egypt envisages.

Daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported yesterday that the Egyptian government — with support from the Emirati government — wants the role of local civil society organizations to be restricted to local information-gathering.

The proposal also suggests that NGOs be barred from contacting the international community directly.

Egypt is, in addition, calling for in-country visits to be optional, rather than compulsory. According to Al-Masry Al-Youm, European governments at the conference have “unanimously agreed” that such inspections should be compulsory.

Palmer emphasized in comments to Daily News Egypt that support for a strong review mechanism is not divided along northern/southern hemisphere lines, and that “a lot of African states and some Arab states are in favor of a strong review mechanism.”

Palmer suggested that objections to a strong review mechanism might center around sovereignty issues, and “is also potentially about the idea that the mechanism is being imposed on [opposing states].”

“These are both flawed arguments, because all these countries signed up to the convention in the first place,” Palmer commented.

“None of them were forced into this. A review mechanism would just check that they’re doing what they said they’d do when they signed up to the convention in the first place.”

Because the negotiation process at Doha is based on consensus rather than votes, opposition by a minority of states will scupper chances for a strong review mechanism.

“Corruption seriously undermines democracy, human rights and sustainable development. Any treaty is only as strong as its implementation. Whilst UNCAC has the potential to become a global anti-corruption standard, without an effective and transparent review mechanism it will be little more than a piece of paper,” TI says in its statement.

Corruption permeates Egyptian society, according to local and international reports. The Business International Portal describes “pervasive corruption as a major obstacle to doing business” in Egypt — despite the unprecedented high amount of foreign direct investment Egypt has attracted in recent years.

“Observers agree that corruption in Egypt is pervasive and the use of wasta [connections] is essential to get most things done,” the Portal says.

Daily News Egypt tried in vain to get the comment of a Foreign Ministry official on the issues raised in this article without success. The official in question was unavailable as he was “attending a meeting.”